This is an excerpt from my talk that I was invited to give at the Our Lady of the Skies Catholic Chapel on Nellis Air Force Base a couple of weekends ago. It was about 30 minutes long so I won’t share all of it today. But I was asked by the pastor there, Father Luis, to share a bit of the “Be Still…” retreat some AF women and I had experienced the day before with other members of the faith community. So, this is what I did. I was part of his ‘mini-retreat’ to kick off the Lenten season and I was honored to be a part of it.
Our Psalm of Lament, Psalm 22, which we experienced in yesterday’s retreat, is appropriate for this Lenten retreat and for this talk because this is the Psalm that Jesus uses as He hangs on the cross. It is the 4th utterance of Jesus before He expires. We hear it on Good Friday. “My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?” Psalms of Lament could be for individuals or for communities. They are often prayed during times of atonement for sin by people of the Jewish faith.
It is a time to reflect on how hard life is. And we all know that sometimes it is very tough. Jesus tells us that this is how it will be. He offers no apologies or excuses for that fact. We live in a fallen world; that won’t change until Jesus comes back and we are truly living in Heaven on Earth.
But Jesus does give us a ‘heads up’ that this is how our life will be – that we must take up our crosses and follow Him. If Jesus does not escape troubles, if the Leader we are asked to follow must endure hardships, heartache, abandonment, slander, loneliness, pain – why, oh why, would we think we can escape the same? (Though, of course, Jesus promises He will always be with us in this life.)
And, in that lament where we count the ways in which we are in agony, or mistreated, or in anguish and grief, in the end, we will praise God for His goodness, His presence, His love. And so that same Psalm that has the Psalmist (and Jesus) asking why God has abandoned Him, ends with the same person praising God for His glory.
Once again, that’s our example of what we can do. Our Divine Leader shows us the way. Unite your suffering with Jesus’ suffering. Offer up your pain – physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual – with His. Jesus redeemed the world, but not everyone was willing to accept His sacrifice. There are many ways that we can offer up our own sacrifices in reparation for the sins of others against our God and the Blessed Mother.
But the Lament Psalms show us and Jesus, in repeating the words of one of them, tells us that it’s OK to complain once in a while. It really is human to ask, “Where are you?” or “how long must I endure this?” (that’s in another psalm). Our very human, frail hearts will want to know why something terrible is happening or explain to God, even though He already knows, how hard something is for us. He wants to hear from us – in good times and bad. Just like any loving parent.
That’s what I love about the Psalms. They are so human. They reveal the human heart and its relationship to God. He knows our hearts anyway; we may as well be honest with God. That’s why I share the Psalms in a day of reflection and with you now.
We see how humans never really change; we see how God is always patient with us when we complain or whine or are impatient with Him. We see through the Psalms that God wants to hear from us. Whatever it is we have to say. Why would we try to hide our true feelings from Him? Why do we think we can mask our anger or frustration from Him? He knows. Own up to it. Talk to Him honestly. But then don’t forget to praise Him! Just as the Psalmist does and just as Jesus does. Because, even though Jesus only says aloud the first few words of Psalm 22, be assured that He KNOWS the rest of the Psalm. He knows how it ends. And He KNOWS how this plan of Salvation of His Father and our Father ends.
Jesus is heading toward Paradise, but even then in His suffering and abandonment by all but His Mother and John at the foot of the cross, abandoned by the betrayers and the deniers and the cowards, lacking all courage and losing all trust in Him, He asks God “why,” but then He praises God.
Let our prayer be that we can have such faith. When Jesus says in the garden at Gethsemane to the Apostles, as He goes to pray alone, “Pray not to be put to the test” and when He teaches us to pray that way in the Our Father, (we now say it as “lead us not into temptation,” but there are translations that say, “do not put us to the test”), we are really praying for that kind of faith.
It’s a faith that praises God and is grateful to God, that beholds His glory even in the passion (suffering) in our experiences. Recall when I talked earlier about the second temptation of Jesus in the desert. When we test God it has to do with unbelief that He will save us. Maybe our ‘testing’ God reveals our own weakness for it is holding on to the material things and corporal comforts of this earthly life because we don’t trust that God is going to provide or that He is enough. The test has to do with a lack of faith in the power and the grace God provides when we open ourselves up to that with abandon, when we surrender to Him.
God is all good. God is merciful. God is love. We need to pray for an increase in faith, just like the Apostles ask Jesus in the Gospel. (Luke, Chapter 17, verse 5).